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Strange flight patterns over Durango part of mapping effort

Aerial photos create high-resolution map of La Plata County
Two planes, operated by Eagle View, an aerial photography company, have been making strange flight patterns this week while mapping the city of Durango and other parts of La Plata County. (FlightAware screenshot)

Two planes zig-zagging and looping above Durango this week in a series of strange flight patterns left some city residents watching the skies in confusion.

But the planes, operated by aerial photography company Eagle View, are actually mapping La Plata County for local governments and utility providers.

The high-resolution aerial images have been captured every two years since 2013 to help with everything from search and rescue operations to property assessments, said Carrie Woodson, La Plata County assessor.

“The reason you’re seeing so much air traffic right now is because they’re doing the city of Durango,” Woodson said. “That’s why you’re seeing unusual air patterns where they’re going around and around.”

La Plata County has used the photos to create digital county maps, to determine right-of-way distances for engineering purposes and to spot property improvements for property assessments, Woodson said.

La Plata County Sheriff’s Office has used the images for tactical operations as a way to scout a location and identify exit and entry points. The aerial photos have assisted La Plata County Search and Rescue in search missions, she said.

The images are so high resolution that one pixel equals 1 inch in urban areas, she said. The photos catch daily life – like people out and about, pets, wildlife and vehicles. But faces and license plates are blurred, and viewers can’t see inside windows, Woodson said.

In outlying areas, the resolution is 9 inches per pixel.

The planes have been photographing the county since April 24 and will wrap up in mid- to late June, depending on the weather.

“We’re trying to catch that spot where the snow is gone, but the trees are not all the way leafed out,” Woodson said.

The project’s fourth flight this year cost slightly less than $144,500, split between local partners: La Plata County, Durango, Bayfield, Ignacio and La Plata Electric Association. In the past, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe has also joined the project.


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